Rx for a Healthy Life: Medical Insurance
Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sat, May. 15, 2004
By William Walker, M.D.
Fred looked worried. His chest pains scared him. Did he have a serious heart condition? Was he going to have a heart attack or die? His previous doctor wasn't sure either, so he had ordered a number of tests. Then Fred lost his job, his health insurance and his doctor. He couldn't afford to have the tests.
Was his heart a ticking time bomb? Should he buy life insurance to protect his family? But with unanswered health questions, he couldn't get affordable life insurance. The cascade of catastrophes seemed never to end. That's how Fred ended up in my family practice clinic at the Martinez Health Center.
Fred (not his real name) is typical of an increasing number of Americans who have lost their health insurance and their doctor. People lose health insurance for many reasons: job loss, divorce, death of a spouse, retirement or their employer reduces or drops coverage. Whatever the reason, having no health insurance can be devastating. The inability to pay health care bills is a significant cause of personal bankruptcy. And, almost half of those who file for bankruptcy have a significant health problem.
Research shows that most people value a long-term relationship with a health-care provider; someone they trust who knows them and their family. But losing your health insurance, having to change your doctor because your HMO dropped him or her from their network, and stopping medications because you can't afford them, are becoming common experiences for many of us.There are some things you can do to reduce the impact. First, if you are given the option of continuing your coverage with a new provider, do it. Second, if you are laid off and offered coverage at greater cost, it is usually a good idea to pay for the coverage. It's dangerous to stop taking prescribed medications.
And be sure to get timely preventive health care such as breast examinations, childhood immunizations and other measures that detect problems early.Another suggestion: Keep copies of your family's medical records, including illnesses, surgeries, results of lab tests and X-rays, and an up-to-date list of medications. Your new health-care provider can do a better job with an accurate medical history.
This month, a campaign called "Cover the Uninsured" hopes to raise awareness of the problems faced by those without health insurance. Nearly 44 million Americans have no health coverage, including 8.5 million children. And many will lose their health insurance or be forced to change providers, which can be frustrating and increase the risk of delayed care and medical errors. Should your health care depend on your work or marital status?
Even if you and your family have insurance now, you or someone you love could easily lose it. Please consider writing a letter to an elected official about the need to reform our health-care system so it becomes a right, available to all. No one should go without needed health care.
Fortunately, we were able to get Fred's medical records from his HMO and complete his evaluation. The process took longer than it should have, but Fred received the health care he needed before it was too late.
Many are not so lucky.
William Walker is the director of Contra Costa Health Services. He is the health officer for Contra Costa County and a physician at the Martinez Health Center.
Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.